By Chet Yarbrough
Selecting books from book lists like Random House’s Modern Library is one method for making choices about what to read next. The decision to listen to “The Sportswriter” came from one of those lists.
The initial impression of the book is that it is a story about wandering through life. But as it progresses, the listener begins to realize that Richard Ford is writing about men and how some view life.
This is not a story that makes one proud to be a man but it offers insight to why the cliché “men are from Mars” has some truth. Ford’s main character is a guy’s guy named Frank Bascombe. He is a traveling sports writer and a divorcée of his own making, a fool that fails to understand what is important in life. After his marriage break up, he is cast adrift to find the next best thing which never turns into anything important.
The main character is a guy’s guy because he has the ability to charm women into thinking he is the man of their dreams. He does not convince every woman of his commitment and interest but he manages to touch all the bases before he is called out. Relationships for Bascombe become momentary escapes from real life, real life where good and bad things happen. Real life for Bascombe is romance and break up without commitment. What he does not understand is commitment helps humans work through the bad things in life to get to the next good. Men see seduction skill in others and think it is the key to paradise.
Women may wonder why men think seduction skill is the key to paradise. Some would say it is 3000 years of genetic inheritance and experience. Of course, that may be a simplistic answer and a myopic (an “all about me” syndrome) conclusion; i.e. a Martian’s perception of reality. On the other hand, there is that tingle of power and pleasure that accompanies a man’s desire to dominate another human being.
The irony of a guy’s guy skill to seduce is that it leads to a lonely and empty life. In Ford’s story, “The Sportswriter”, Bascombe drifts through life from relationship to relationship to nowhere. He never comes to grips with what is wrong with his life. He drifts to Retirementville, Florida to think about the next best thing. That is how the story ends. It is a rather depressing exploration of how vacuous life can be.
This is a book that gives a concrete explanation of what some men are looking for in life. When listening to The Sportswriter, you may find someone you know; hopefully not you.